I realize St. Patrick's Day is over and done with, but this mac and cheese truly should be on everyone's table, no matter what day or time of year. When you add Irish ham (found universally in most supermarkets) and Irish cheddar cheese (again, frequently found) you have some great flavors working that you don't ordinarily enjoy. 1/2 bunch kale
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese,divided
1-1/2 cups cubed, smoked ham,Irish if possible
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cubed
1/2 cup Guiness, Murphy's or Beamish stout
2 cups macaroni
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces Irish Cheddar cheese,shredded
Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Rinse and dry kale leaves, cutting out the tough, center stalks. Tear them into bite-sized pieces and toss them with the olive oil and 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese in a bowl.
Place them on a pan and bake for about 8-9 minutes, or until crispy, browned but not burnt. Keep an eye on them, some may crisp up faster than others so open oven to remove the crisp ones while continuing to cook remainder. Remove from oven while preparing remainder of recipe. Leave oven on.
In a medium skillet, over medium heat, add the cubed ham and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook ham, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Add stout and continue cooking and stirring until liquid has almost entirely evaporated, about another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.
Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and set aside but do not rinse. In a large saucepan, melt remaining butter over low heat; when melted, whisk in the flour until smooth. Raise heat to medium and add milk and pepper, whisking well. Continue cooking and frequently whisking until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add cheese, whisking until melted; remove from heat. Add the macaroni, ham, remainder parmesan cheese, stirring to combine. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling.
Serve with the crispy kale thrown on top of each serving.
Chef Jim Baley -- The Yankee Chef -- is a noted food columnist, cookbook author and the foremost New England Food Historian. He is a third generation chef and historian and lives in Maine with his wife and four children. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.